Pointers from Paulie B: The Importance of Routine Maintenance (Part 1)

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Despite there being more than 5,000 commercial airliners in the skies over the U.S. at any given time, author Paul Russo attributes the low number of crashes due to mechanical failure to the airline industry’s focus on preventative maintenance. (Graphic: © iStockphoto/ihorzigor)

Paul Russo |

Follow airline industry example and document all laundry repairs to spot trends

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Do you cringe at the sight of “Out of Order” signs hanging on your machines? Do you want to cut down on emergency service calls in your store as much as possible? Do you want your Laundromat—mat, for short—to be prosperous with as many happy customers as possible?

Then you need to be proactive and stay ahead of problems by doing preventative maintenance.

Sooner or later, every piece of equipment in your mat will eventually break down. It’s not if but when. You can dramatically slow down machine failures if you stay current on your maintenance. Mat veterans know that the majority of headaches occur because of a lack of maintenance.

It seems ironic that so many are attracted to our industry because they feel running a Laundromat is “an easy part-time business.” The reality is that a mat is a store that is packed with sophisticated equipment. If you were to add up all the functioning parts in any given mat, they would add up to thousands! Solenoids, switches, valves, gears, motors, hinges, water hoses, drain lines, air hoses…I could go on and on.

Did you know that, at any given moment, there are at least 5,000 planes flying over the U.S. alone? How many times do you hear of a plane crash due to mechanical failure? Rarely. Why? Because the airlines perform lots of preventative maintenance!

If you commit yourself to doing some routine maintenance, it will be time well spent!

Here are some tips:

KEEP A REPAIR RECORD

If you want to emulate the excellent record of the airline industry keeping thousands of planes up in the air, then do what it does: keep a logbook of every repair. You will be able to spot trends of frequent failures and stay ahead of them. A logbook can also help you see how much money you are spending on a particular machine, and help you order the right amount of parts to keep in stock.

Your logbook can be as simple as buying a spiral notebook and devoting a page to each piece of equipment in your mat. The machine headlines the page, and the lines beneath it will occupy your repairs along with the dates. Or, you can keep it on your computer cloud. A logbook is also useful if you have repairs under warranty.

Don’t forget to list other equipment such as your boiler, A/C units, and vending equipment.

PAY ATTENTION TO UNUSUAL NOISES

After a while, we get to know exactly how our store should sound. When I would walk in to my stores, I expected to hear a generally low-level symphony of properly functioning machines. It was a thing of beauty.

If something was wrong, such as a bra wire sticking through a hole in a washer basket, I would be alerted to that issue by the telltale scraping. If I got to it right away, I could usually pull it out of the basket without even removing the front panel and before it dropped down to the drain valve to cause damage.

If you ignore the unusual noises, they will come back to haunt you with a more serious problem.

CHECK EVERYTHING WHEN YOU OPEN UP A MACHINE

This may sound like common sense, but I know some operators who don’t bother. They just want to get in and out of their mat as quickly as possible. A little more time spent will cause fewer problems down the line.

Example: If you have to fix a water valve by changing a diaphragm, why not change all of the diaphragms while you’re at it? If one diaphragm failed, the others are sure to follow a few months down the line. After all, you took the time to climb over the washer, brought your tools to the washer, and opened it up, so what does it cost to change five diaphragms instead of one? A few bucks and a few minutes more, yes, but you won’t have another water valve problem with that washer for a long time.

RECOGNIZE THAT LINT IS THE ENEMY OF ALL LAUNDROMATS

Removing lint is the most important preventative maintenance you can do to avoid calamity! Accumulated lint can cause fires and floods.

When I first started out a long time ago, I learned this lesson the hard way. I was into my second mat, plus I just started a plastic bag business. I was too busy, so I neglected my mats.

Then one afternoon, my attendant called me in a panic. She said the store was on fire! She said she tried to stop it with the fire extinguisher, but it raged out of control. The fire department responded quickly and put it out, but it was too late.

By the time I got there, the store had water damage all over, it smelled terribly of smoke, and I could see the sky while standing inside the store! Half the store had burned down.

So what happened? Fire officials said a dryer motor gave off an electrical spark and ignited the 1/8-inch layer of lint on the dryer backs that I had allowed to accumulate! If that layer of lint hadn’t been back there, the spark would have just died out. It was a hard lesson that I’ve never forgotten!

Lint can also cause floods. Most of us know this from obstructions in washer drains that quickly accumulate into a “lint ball” that literally can stop the machine from draining. A customer opens the door and a nice waterfall spills out all over the floor, creating a shock hazard as well as a slip hazard.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Paul Russo

Paul Russo owned and operated multiple Laundromats in New York City for more than 40 years before retiring recently. He’s a regular on the Coin Laundry Association’s online forum, posting under the pseudonym “Paulie B.” He invites comments from AmericanCoinOp.com visitors at MyLaundromat@aol.com.

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